Companies' ability to control content has been given a big boost thanks to a industry wide pooling of digital rights management (DRM) patents.

The technology used to protect digital music, video and software by five leading companies will be combined as one in a new agreement hammered out and publicised [pdf] by MPEG LA, which also handles licences for MPEG-4.

A joint patent portfolio licence will operate under the name, the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) DRM 1.0 specification. The participants are: ContentGuard, Intertrust, Matsushita, Philips and Sony. Handset makers will be charged $1 to include the OMA DRM 1.0 standard into a mobile phone, while content owners will pay royalties representing one percent of the consumer selling price of their services.

In a similar previous arrangement, MPEG LA pooled the MPEG-2 patents of nine organisations and began offering a batch licence to all the patents needed to comply with the standard, with the proceeds shared among the patent holders. MPEG LA's pooling approach was approved by the US Department of Justice in 1997 despite charges that they violated antiitrust law.

According to MPEG LA, this latest agreement marks the first time that digital rights patents have been pooled.

The OMA is an industry group of mobile operators and handset makers. It introduced OMA DRM version 1.0 in November 2002 as a way to provide basic protection for content delivered to mobile devices. That release is already used in a variety of handsets from Nokia, Siemens, Motorola and Sony Ericsson, as well as servers, middleware, applications and software from Nokia, Ericsson, NEC and Philips.

Last February, the OMA launched version 2.0 of its DRM specification designed to provide even stronger protections. The updated version allows compliant devices to receive and play encrypted files, and works with devices using Wi-Fi networks based on the IEEE 802.11 standards.

MPEG LA said that the OMA DRM Patent Portfolio Licence is expected to cover products that use the OMA DRM 1.0 specification, as well as those that use both OMA DRM 1.0 and 2.0. The group aims to pool the patents for OMA DRM 2.0 by the middle of the year.